they set out together

90 seconds

For ninety seconds after, there was complete silence. Veronica knew this because although she was too dazed to move, she improbably found herself staring as at the second hand of an expensive silver watch.

It was one of the many unlikely occurrences that day held.

For ninety seconds, she observed the dark black line slowly make its orbit, marking off the seconds as reality adjusted. She wondered whose watch this was, and how it had ended up in her yard.

A bird chirped. Veronica looked up and realized that it was over. Nothing more was going to happen now. All that was left was to get up and try to assess the world as it was.

3 minutes

The realization that it was only self pity that held her down made it hard to stay on the ground, but she managed to avoid any movement for another three cycles of the second hand.

2 days

How many people lived on her street? Within a quarter mile?

If she was the only one left, then that made her what?… 1 in a hundred… 300?

Nothing would work.

It was easy to check on people. In their last moments everyone had left their doors wide open.

She hadn’t gotten the memo, another mystery. The static on radio was deafening.

The electricity was still on, but there was no internet or cell service.

How should that figure into her odds? 1 in a thousand?

4 days

There was nobody left in her neighborhood. In a few homes she found hasty notes:, to do lists of names, but no explanations.

It’s not just that they were gone. it’s that everyone else had seemed to know something was about to happen except for her and her husband. They had missed the invitation somehow.

When they had looked out the window and saw everyone’s cars with their open trunks and hoods open they had stepped onto the porch. Their neighbors were all lined up outside, waiting.

Had they seemed scared? She thought so, but she had been scared so who knows.She missed her husband, Ian, most of all. He had been calm, inquisitive. Naive.

2 months

With nothing else to do, she processed her grief surprisingly quickly. The world around her was full of possibilities and the only immediate concern so far was the dogs.

The outside world was keeping it’s distance. But the animals that had been left behind had become a serious threat.

Even the cats moved in groups, looking slightly unhinged. When she saw them prowl the streets at night in ever larger packs,  she imagined how betrayed they must have felt. They had given up their wild selves to build a life based on a certain kind of companionship and civilization. Then, with no explanation it was gone.

Her grief was in the past. The loneliness existed in the eternal now.

6 months

Slowly she had adapted to the mystery of her current circumstances. What had taken everyone? Should she trust the tap water? Why didn’t the car start? How would she eat when the perishable food ran out? Would they be back by then? How long would the electricity last?

She knew she had changed, but just how much was confirmed when she spotted a house-sized creature and did not scream. It was mostly robotic, and mostly spider shaped but with a humanoid torso and face. She was surprised of course, and afraid for her life, but she was not overwhelmed.

She hid, but it found her anyways.

6 months 1 day

In the end, all it wanted was some cake. She scavenged some, and they had a small birthday celebration.

6 months 3 days

He had been literally living in a cave and had no idea what had happened. But he offered this:

“Sometimes you just have to accept that the impossible happens and all the rules you knew before are gone. That happens and my ability to accept it when it does is one reason I have lasted as long as I have.

But…  not yet.  Let’s go visit the local power station. And if that doesn’t work well see if we can’t track down some aliens or old gods or something and wring an explanation out of them.

If you live long enough sometimes you find that you can do something, and even if not, it’s usually more interesting to try.”

6 months 1 week

She set her house on fire and watched as the irreplaceable memories held in the objects from her old life burned.

She opened up as much cat and dog food as she could find.

And they left together.

Remo tells a story

Occasionally when Remo feels expansive he goes to the mountains and listens to the universe.

Occasionally when Remo feels hopeless he finds a tavern and poses as a bard.

He stands on the stage until he finds something to say, or is removed.

One night he told the following tale three times.

Nearby there exists a world like ours in almost every respect. It holds our towns, our lakes, and all of our joys and sorrows.

The only difference is that miles below the surface it has a cavern that our world does not.

The cavern has an underground stream and a stone cannon that were not crafted by any sentient being on that world.

At seemingly random intervals, the ground rumbles slightly, and the cannon ejects a creature.

These beings are like adult humans in almost every respect. The only differences are that they average three feet in height and their heads are shaped like mushrooms.

Their heads are shaded. One third of the creatures are red, one third green, and one third are purple. The mushrooms all have white circles.

Most of the time, the creatures come out with enough speed that they smash their skulls against the cavern wall, dying moments after they appear.

But seeming randomness when mixed with extreme time scales can produce strange results.

So sometimes the room fills with corpses, and one of the humanoids will have its emergence cushioned by the bodies, and instead die a prolonged death, crushed by the weight of those who have come before, unable to maneuver.

For some reason, this never happens to the red headed mushrooms.

But, the room also contains a stream. So occasionally the creatures will spawn in just such a way that their is a padding in one space, but the flowing water has cleared away the debris elsewhere.

Occasionally one survives.

Even more rarely, more than one survives at the same time.

And they will begin to make sense of their surroundings together, and tell stories about the Gods.

They will perform cleansing rituals on the carcasses of their fore-bearers before eating them, and drink the fresh water provided by the stream. They will fantasize about the day that a red topped one will come and lead them to a new home.

As she lies dyeing of malnutrition, lacking the leafy greens needed to fight off disease, one named Boh will use her finger to write the story of her people in the flowing water.

She will record their fears, their triumphs, and the games they played.

The echo’s of her movements absorbed by the water.

Without making any obvious changes, the first time Remo recounted this, the moral was: Each skull is imperceptibly expanding the room as it slams into at the cavern ceiling.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

The second time: Although it may seem hopeless, notice that despite all odds Boh’s story made its way to us.

By the third time he recounted the tale, it was closer to dawn than midnight and the crowd was no longer feeling indulgent.

The coda was: Sometimes the universe just wants to take a long time to say “fuck you”

Fleeting Joy

On the morning of his birthday, as the first light made its way through the dense foliage and into the cave camber, Narch stared at the empty wooden table and thought about cake.

Marline, one of his few female friends, had recently introduced him to the concept of birthday cake. He had made it a long time without, but now that he knew about the possibility he really wanted one.

But how? By temperament he was a recluse, an inclination only exacerbated by the fact he was a cottage sized cybernetic spider and so was usually attacked on sight.

Marline, a witch, had been an exception.

One of the peculiarities of living over five millennia is you accumulate a number of highly unlikely experiences.

But she has been dead for over a century now, and besides she had never been good at baking.

Narch felt the loneliness begin to build. He noticed that he was beginning to search his memories for clues about how he’d been brought into existence. The hope was they would help answer the question of why he should bother continuing.

Catching himself, he turned his mind to Carlile the wisdom dragon, who had showed him that sometimes his thoughts did not have his best interest in mind.

When Carlile disappeared, Narch had taken his revenge on the Kingdom of Farl. Geopolitics being what they were, this had led to a confrontation with the entire Southern Alliance, and their God, a nasty deal making wind spirit whose name escaped Narch.

Was it even worth the effort of leaving the cave?

Driving them from the coasts had sent the entire region spiraling into chaos. It hadn’t been that long ago… and without the autocratic monarchs propped up by a conniving false God, would there be enough infrastructure left to support a civilization?

Slowly the memories came back. The Zeglans had regarded him as a hero, and had even shown up at the Battle of Great Falls to support what they called his March of Freedom.

They were eager to try their had at a “new” system of economic self determination combined with a robust social safety net.

For Narch, the question was: Could such Utopian visions create the conditions for a worthwhile bakery? Would they have heard of cake? Or was the concept lost to time like dal’lesh.

Ever the optimist, after a time he gathered his massive frame, and left his abode in search of fleeting joy.

My Star Wars Pitch

Kylo, Poe and Han Solo stop off in a seedy bar following rumors about the whereabouts of Luke.

As the camera pans the room, the audience sees a variety of bizarre, but strangely familiar alien forms.

Without warning, Hans face explodes. The music stops. In shock, the group is too horrified to respond when an alien walks up to the table holding a blaster. He stares at Hans slumping corpse and says “Message from Greedo, ‘How about a ‘heads up’ next time.'” Continue reading

A bridge at the end of the world

There are places where the solid ground we depend on gives way to something less stable. The world we know, air we breathe, the creatures we face, the physics we depend on… all drop away.

In times of plenty, thrill-seekers come to such places, pulled in by the promise of testing their unknown boundaries.

But these were times of disorder, and harsh reality stole the thrill from those who adventure just for pleasure. And so, the bridge at the end of the world was largely abandoned.

Isa had lived on the mysterious stone bridge for a long time. Her home was thatched to the last and greatest of the pillars. A stone monument that rose into the sky, a scale model of an infinite tower. From town, on a clear day, it was just barely visible from St Josias. In times of plenty, the pillar alone would be worth a journey to the end of the world.

For Isa, the dark stone column was an anchor against the storms that raged all around. A piece of solid footing in a place of wind and uncertainty. Some days she resented it.

On a clear day, Isa could see for miles along the bridge. On this day she saw a black speck moving steadily towards her. She sighed deeply and set the water to boil.

**********

[This interaction plays with the idea of fate. The mysterious stranger is afraid, driven by their sense that their mission is to travel the world and accomplish seemingly minor tasks (shooing a butterfly off it’s course, picking up a marble from a busy road – and thus prevent it’s pre-ordained outcome ala chaos theory).

Further, according to the stranger, only those extremely rare events that actually have determinist outcomes are revealed to them. Everything else is powered by free will and random chance. The strangers tasks are a function of that law of indeterminism that otherwise deterministic events create the conditions for an agent of free will (the mysterious stranger) to potentially intercede. The stranger does not know what outcome they are preventing, good to bad, their only mission is to hold back the forces of determinism.

The stranger may not be the best judge of their own true motivations.]

– This is all backstory, not story, I don’t have the story here worked out or how much of that I want to shoehorn into it.

– They travel down the bridge and accomplish something trivial (perhaps after great effort)?

**********

The woman in black smirked when politely asked about her day. In response to Isa’s question she replied “A more interesting question, is why do you live here and invite the wayward strangers who appear into your home for tea?”

“As far as I know, I am the last bit of refuge on the bridge. Nobody makes it this far without reason. Some of them are worth hearing, and some only need to tell their story to be persuaded they truly want to turn around.”

“Are you going to try and stop me?”

“I don’t try and stop anybody. The suicides I try to comfort, and sometimes that reminds them that they don’t want to go. But you can see this place for what it is, and so I know you’re driven by a wider perceptive. I’ve yet to have much impact on those like you.”

Some more small talk. And then:

“What can you tell me about the bridge beyond here?” the woman in black asked.

“I have made it about three days in. The winds get louder and bridge narrows but the stone never gives way. The voices get quieter and more intense. They strike fear into me, and I’ve always turned around. I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has gone further and come back.”

“The voices?”

“The bridge is a mystery, and may manifest itself differently to you. For me, my fear takes the form of voices that haunt me at and tug at the lonely parts of my soul

Not everyone has that experience. But I the ones who have no reaction at all have always scared me the most.”

….

I am hopeful that my quarry is only a days travel in. I was afraid I may not … well I was afraid.

Is your quarry a secret?

 

Disclaimers; Non-Canonical Editions and Drafts

Disclaimer: I’m cheating, or at least playing a different game.

I am using distribution channels (Kindle, Nook, Diesel etc…) to push out something that is not quite what people expect from them.*

When I give my book away in the gift economy feel some guilt because I worry that I might be undermining others. Not just those who charge money, but also those who give away their creations as part of a larger plan.

I wrote some words because it brought me happiness to do so. Avoiding Space Madness was the result of those efforts.

I truly believe that grammar is the etiquette of the written word, and poor grammar is the written equivalent of showing up for a formal dinner party dressed like Radagast the Brown. You look incompetent and nobody knows what your doing. More importantly you make things awkward for everyone else (especially those who want to like you).

So before putting it into the world, I edited it to the best of my ability (to my dismay, I am not a very good copyeditor).

There is no marketing plan around giving away the book. I am not engaging in the same dynamics as most other authors.

I am giving away the book to stop myself from continuing to edit it with diminishing returns and diminishing joy. This enables me to have time to write more and bring myself joy.

It is my hope that it brings entertainment to others. It is amazing to think that other people have read my words.

*To highlight this, the book is labeled thusly:

“non-canonical edition disclaimer:

This is a draft. This is only a draft. If this were a real book, all of the sentences would have both subjects and verbs.

If I ever have a publisher or access to a copyeditor, I will publish a canonical edition. Until then, I wrote something approximating a book and put it out for the world to take as much pleasure in it as the world would.

Then I wrote this disclaimer to answer some questions I received about what my intentions were.

I hope it helps.

Does my free novel devalue entertainment? OR Why do I hurt the ones I love?

Note: This post was originally conceived of as a forum topic here.

Exhibit A: I believe that creative/intellectual endeavors frequently bring value into the world, even when they are digital objects.

Exhibit B: I have decided the best thing (for me) to do with my novel is to give it away.

Providing my novel for free meets a variety of my goals (I am not convinced that it alone maximizes my readership, but that’s a topic for another day).

But doing so puts me in a precarious position vis a vis exhibit A.

In theory, some readers will hopefully enjoy the book and think that it was of value to them. It will be value they did not pay for, which could contribute to the general devaluing of electronic entertainment.

Once people are used to getting something for free, it loses value. Similar to the race to the bottom (read 99 cents) in the iTunes store, where many people no longer even consider purchasing a 5-dollar game, I wonder and worry if giving away my book does not help train people to think they should be able to get e-books for free.

I finesse the problem slightly by mentioning gift economy a few times, encouraging people to share the book with friends and so on. But even that has problems, because it can lead a fan to assume that I am simply operating within a successful business model that they simply do not understand.

That model does not exist. For me at least.

That’s ok for me (except inasmuch as it means people don’t bother to try the book because of perceived value problems) but I wonder if it wouldn’t have been the moral thing to do to charge something as show of solidarity to my fellow authors.

All of this is probably taking the impact of a single book by an unknown author too seriously, but the larger question seems worth considering.

Thoughts?

The Value of Publishing

“Anybody who likes writing a book is an idiot. Because it’s impossible, it’s like having a homework assignment every stinking day until it’s done. And by the time you get it in, it’s done and you’re sitting there reading it, and you realize the 12,000 things you didn’t do… And when you’re done, people tell you “Well, gee, I’m not interested.”

– Lewis Black

Everything I write is a reflection of me (yes – even a genre fantasy novel). The relationship may not be intuitive or straightforward, and it may not be the relationship you assume, but it exists.

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.
– Goethe

Towards the end of Avoiding Space Madness, Darwin starts ranting about how hard it is to find a truly comfortable chair. This is a minor scene, but it does a few things. It illuminates Darwin’s temperament and history; it fills in some details about the world he inhabits, and it was fun to write. It’s a good solid piece of writing.

I wrote the first draft of it over four years ago, and I am no longer same author now that I was then. I would not disavow it, it is a scene that I fully stand behind, but my mind now understands that interaction in subtly different ways.

The last time I edited Avoiding Space Madness, I was tempted to cut the scene out. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but it’s no longer how I would solve the problems it solves. Alone that is an edit, but the ranting about chairs scene does not exist in isolation. Every part of the book affects everything else and I could not simply delete it without doing damage to the rest of the book. The problem is not the scene. The chair rant fits perfectly fine into the book I wrote.

The problem is that I probably would not write the same kind of chair rant anymore (instead I might write a sophisticated diatribe about lawn art).

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
-Leonardo da Vinci

To truly get at the heart of the changes I’ve undergone as a writer large parts of the book would need to be gutted and re-written. Which would be worthwhile if it would produce a better novel, but it wouldn’t. It would simply produce a different novel. And that novel is the one I am now working on.

At the same time I want to honor the book I wrote. Trying to work on the sequel with an unpublished manuscript in the same series in the drawer was apparently more trouble than it takes to just put it out into the world. So I did.

Part of the story is that I worked on and off on a sequel for a few years. But progress slowed and then stalled.  It didn’t help that every year or so I took a couple of months to go back and revise Avoiding Space Madness.

What it really needed more than anything I could provide, was a copy editor. Since I could not give it that, I kept flailing away at it with the talents I have, rather than the talents it needed. But when book 2 fizzled under the weight of my excitement for what I wanted to do in book 3 I knew I had to change something. Writing for me is a slow process, made slower by the fact that I actually enjoy my day job. It also requires a certain sustained passion for the story I want to tell. I need to care enough about what I am creating to write the boring scenes, to walk away from my partner and write for an afternoon. One day I had to admit to myself that I had been living with my ideas for book 2 for too long, and it had proven fatal. Time to move on.

Time to throw the dead weight overboard.

Putting any work out to the world provides a snapshot, a definitive moment captured. It is the final step in the authorial process.

More importantly, I was shocked to discover that nobody had registered Fantasyofanovelidea.com and had to capitalize on my good fortune.

My first priority for any profits I receive from my donation button is to purchase fantasyofanovel.com and fantasyofanovelideal.com as redirect sites.